Back in 1990, sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the phrase “second shift” to describe the household labor married women did once they came home from their paying jobs. The thesis was a bit overblown then, and definitely is now as the number of hours women devote to housework has fallen precipitously. Back in 1965, married moms did about 35 hours of housework per week. These days, it’s down below 20, and only a bit above 14 if you have a full time job. Married women are spending more time with our kids than our mothers did, which in theory could constitute a second shift, but we spend a higher proportion of this time on interactive activities than women did four decades ago — the fun stuff like reading together, playing together, etc. Referring to this as shift work probably isn’t quite right.
But that’s not to say that many moms — and dads! — aren’t working a second shift. We are. It is almost 11pm right now, and I am hacking my way through my work to-do list. I picked up Jasper at 5:30pm today and we hung out together until about 8:30. My husband and I had dinner, and then we both went back to work for the past two hours.
There are upsides and downsides to this, of course. Often, I need a break in the early evenings. I’ve definitely been more productive in the last two hours than I would have been if I’d worked straight through to 7:30pm or so. A second shift also gives moms and dads more time with their kids without having to stick to an 8 hour workday. On the other hand, it reduces leisure time quite a bit, and can reduce couple time and sleep if you’re not careful. The key is to think of it as a concentrated, quiet burst of time, and call it quits at least 8 hours before you have to be up in the morning.